Review – 邪神決闘伝


邪神決闘伝 by Hideyuki Kikuchi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This self-described Cthulhu Western is a very traditional western hammered into a very traditional Cthulhu mythos mold to make something uniquely fun. The writer wears his tastes on his sleeve, writing a western based deeply in the Hollywood 1950s movie tradition: famous gunslingers, nefarious train companies running honest farmers off their land, and deadly natives. Add to that Deep Ones, Cthulhu magic, and seemingly deathless villains, and you get quite an adventure.

This does mean, of course, that many of the more nuanced views that have started to shape the American view of the west, particularly recognition of the terrible treatment of Native Americans and Black people, are absent. The Native Americans in this story are enemies, if ones on perhaps more equal terms with the protagonists than was common in the old western tradition, and the only black characters are nameless servants.

One rather interesting element is the addition of the Japanese character Shinobi, and the recurring equation of his Japanese-ness with the Native Americans by malevolent white characters–it adds a wrinkle to the treatment of race in this one that is worth thinking about.

Overall, there is little original ground tread here, but the author makes no bones about it: This is a product of his love of old western movies, and his interest in Lovecraft’s malevolent world building. If you go into it looking for that, you won’t be disappointed.

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Resurrection Fireplace – Review

The Resurrection Fireplace

The Resurrection Fireplace by Hiroko Minagawa

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Resurrection Fireplace by Hiroko Minagawa, Translation by Matt Trayvaud

In 18th Century London, a group of anatomy students and their professor get caught up in murder, fraud, and confusion as deception piles on deception in this whirlwind mystery.

This is far and away one of the most intricate, convoluted plots I’ve read in recent years. There are lies within lies, plots within plots, and crimes both real and imagined. The villains are revealed, then changed, and finally, when all is made clear, the light comes on and you realize the clues were there all along… Or were they?

It’s a trip, and one well worth taking.

This is the rare Japanese novel that doesn’t revel in its Japanese-ness. It does a wonderful job of evoking the grime, corruption and class heirarchy of Georgian London without exoticizing it, although there are certain times with the exposition of cultural norms can feel heavy for people familiar with the setting (as most Japanese audiences definitely aren’t).

The overall pace is smooth and fast, and the characters are well-drawn. The misery of the underclass is played out without pandering, as well. I quite enjoyed the irreverence of the anatomy students at their grisly work, but there are definitely sections that might turn off the squeamish. The violence is not gratuitous, but anatomists in 1700s London dealt in rotting flesh and death. It’s not pretty.

I will say that the last section, where everything was tied together, felt a bit rushed and entirely over-complicated, but it seems to fit the overall tone of the story well. I was genuinely taken by surprise by one or two turns, but it was not confusing at all.

Let me say one thing about the translation: This was masterful. I am a professional translator of Japanese to English, and the mere thought of some of the challenges this book brought (the use of original Middle English poetry?! Translated from Japanese?! Holy moly…) makes me dizzy. The language is natural, and the characters have clear voices, and the translation never gets in your face as “translation.” It’s outstanding.

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